CRUISING NOTES ON SOUTH CUBA
These notes are a result of a short cruise that we did in Cuba in April 2013 on “Alba” our Hallberg Rassy 42. Our draft is 2.0 metres (6’ 8”).
A copy of this document can be downloaded from http://www.thehowarths.net/albacronicles/cruising-notes. There is another document that covers the Northwest coast of Cuba.
We cleared in at Cayo Largo from Belize and then went east heading for Jamaica.
We used Calder’s cruising guide which we found to be accurate, especially on approaches. Our electronic Navionics charts were mostly accurate, but sometimes were up to ½ mile out.
We cleared in at Cayo Largo hoping to be able to cruise east through the off-lying cays to Cabo Cruz and then sail directly south to Montego Bay in Jamaica. Our plan was to clear out in Manzanillo, but the Guarda Fronteras in both Cayo Largo and Cienfuegos told us that we couldn't get an international exit clearance in Manzanillo. The only options were Cienfuegos or Santiago de Cuba, which is 200 miles up-wind and up-current of Cabo Cruz - not a trip for the faint-hearted.
We elected to clear out in Cienfuegos and to slowly sail towards Cabo Cruz hoping that, by staying away from any towns, we wouldn't encounter any Guarda Fronteras or other officials. Several other yachts that were in Cienfuegos had arrived from Jamaica and had spent time in the same outlying cays and had not seen any officials at all.
Marina Cayo Largo
PORT OF ENTRY. Nice marina, with very clear water and palm trees everywhere. The docks are floating pontoons in very good condition. There is excellent security. The clearance procedures were very straight forward, with everyone arriving very quickly. Some of the marina staff speak very good English and all are friendly.
The western entrance through the fringing reef is well marked with a green and red buoy. The Navionics charts are accurate and we used a way-point of 21°35.0N 081°36.5W. From there, we headed north for 3/4 mile and then turned east heading for the entrance into the marina.
The dredged channel into the marina is clearly marked, but is completely different from the information in Calder's guide. There are red and green posts marking the channel with the outer markers at approximately 21°36.1N 081°34.9W. The channel passes an island to starboard and then turns sharp right into the marina. This is marked on Calder's sketched chart as "Dredged Channel Reptd (1999)". Depths are in the region of 4 metres all the way into the marina, but shoal rapidly either side of the channel.
The marina is a base for a fleet of charter boats and there are many tourist boats taking people snorkelling, diving and visiting off-lying beaches. There are several tourist shops and a small supermarket that, even by Cuban standards, has a very poor selection of goods. We were told by one of the marina staff that obtaining provisions is a major problem even for the large tourist hotels on the island. We were able to buy beer, rum, coke and eggs, but nothing fresh at all. There is a small hotel in the marina where internet access is available for $10 CUC per hour.
There is nothing to do at all in Cayo Largo apart from visiting the small turtle sanctuary, unless you want to pay to go scuba diving. Even going for a walk is boring - a long straight road leading past the airport to large tourist hotels.
The eastern channel through the fringing reef is marked with a red buoy and the Navionics charts seem to be accurate. We used a waypoint of 21°35.4N 081°34.4W
Cayo Largo to Cienfuegos
PASSAGE NOTES. This passage is 80 miles, being directly east for 45 miles then north-east for 35 miles. The route is complicated by the presence of the shallow Banco de Jagua. We took a course to the west of Banco de Jagua, but avoided the shallows off Cayo Guano del Este. Another irritation is the 40 mile wide navigation "no-go" zone around the Bay of Pigs. The rhumb line passes just to the eastern edge of the zone. We had to beat upwind for this part of the passage and occasionally went a few miles into the zone, but wouldn't recommend going very much further inside because we saw a very fast coast guard cutter patrolling the boundary on our night passage.
I can agree with Calder's comment that "the deep waters of the Golfo de Cazones can get quite rough and unpleasant". As night fell, the wind picked up to 25-30 knots from the north east wind and the seas quickly built up to steep, twelve foot waves, making it a very unpleasant beat to windward.
PORT OF ENTRY. Pleasant marina, with concrete docks in reasonable condition. There is excellent security. The clearance procedures were very straight forward, with everyone arriving very quickly - all of the officials have offices in the marina and are available 24/7. Some of the marina staff speak very good English and all are friendly.
The entrance into Cienfuegos Harbour is well marked with a lighthouse and the buoyed channel is wide and suitable for big ships. The Navionics charts are accurate.
There is a large anchorage outside the marina with good holding in 5-8 metre depth. You will have to pay $0.20 per foot to anchor, for which you get access to the marina facilities.
There is a small supermarket in the marina where you can get drinks and tinned products, but little else. A state run dollar shop and a petrol station are located 1/2 mile down the Malecon towards the main town where you can buy some provisions, but not much fresh food.
It's a 2 kilometre walk into town, where there is a pedestrian shopping area on Avenue 54 with many shops. The Municipal Market is on Avenue 58 near the junction with Calle 29 - meat and fresh vegetables are available and there's a bakery across from the market. Strangely, potatoes are not sold in the market stalls, but we were approached by a guy selling potatoes around the corner. There is internet access in the telecoms office across the road from the Union Hotel on Calle 31.
You can get a bicycle taxi back to the marina for $2CUC.
Marina Cienfuegos is a good place to travel inland, but the marina is small and space is limited - you may have to wait a few days for a place to become available.
Heading East from Cienfuegos
PASSAGE NOTES. The whole coastline east of Cienfuegos is affected by local wind conditions. An offshore breeze in the morning. Then just before midday, the wind starts to veer more southerly, and becomes a sea breeze. This will enhance or counteract the prevailing winds. Typically the wind is lighter in the afternoon.
There are no major hazards offshore, so we followed the coastline about a mile offshore. On our passage, the prevailing winds were from the north-east, so we had 20-25 knot winds from the north-east in the morning, a calm just before noon and then south winds at 15 knots in the afternoon.
Canal de las Mulatas
REEF ENTRANCE. The Navionics charts are showing the red entrance buoy in the correct place - the approximate position of the buoy in April 2013 was 21° 41.9N 079° 58.6W. The inner green marker is also in the correct position. Once over the fringing reef, the water is murky but deep. We didn't go to Casilda, but instead headed east, passing to the south of Cayo Guayo and towards Pasa Jobabo.
REEF PASSAGE. The position of this pass is correctly shown on the Navionics charts, but in April 2013 there were no buoys marking the channel. We had good light and were able to eyeball our way through the narrow pass. Our track passed through 21° 42.15N 079° 54.19W and the water was never shallower than 8 metres.
ANCHORAGE. There are no buoys marking the entrance, but the Navionics and Calder's charts are accurate. With good light it is easy to see the very shallow water even though the water is murky. The shallowest point was 2.8 metres on the approach and we anchored in 3 metres in mud. The anchorage is completely surrounded by mangroves and is protected from all directions. Very peaceful.
Ensenada Jobabo to Cayo Blanco De Casilda
REEF PASSAGE. This looks considerably worse in Calder's guide than it is in reality. We sailed in a direct line from outside Ensenada Jobabo to 21° 39.6N 079° 53.1W and the water was never shallower than 8 metres. From this waypoint, we headed south towards the island to a waypoint at approximately 21° 39.12N 079° 53.08W in water no less than 3-4 metres deep. We then headed south-west following the edge of the shoal.
Cayo Blanco De Casilda
ANCHORAGE. We anchored near 21° 38.7N 079° 53.6W in a 5 metre deep sand patch. This is a day stop only because you are a long way from the cay and it's not protected at all. The sea bed is sand and weed and uninteresting, but we saw lots of Lionfish and snared a lobster hiding under the edge of a weed bank.
ANCHORAGE. This is not mentioned as an anchorage in Calder's guide, but is very pleasant giving protection from all directions apart from south west to north west. The approach is as though going east though the Pasa De Los Machos, but go to the north of the shallow spit called Restinga de Cayo Magua. Keep heading north east and anchor in 5 metres to the west of a small white sand beach. The holding is very good in thick mud.
Pasa De Los Machos
REEF PASSAGE. This is a very straight forward deep passage. The Navionics charts show a 1.8 metre unmarked shoal in the channel, but there is a green marker buoy on this as shown in Calder's guide.
Cayo Blanco de Zaza
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We dropped the anchor level with the lighthouse, but found poor holding. The water was murky and there is only protection from east winds, so we didn't bother looking for another place to anchor.
Cayo Zaza de Fuera
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We anchored in 3 metres to the south of the inlet opposite a stake. The sea bed is sand with thin weed and is good holding. The anchorage is protected from the north through to the south east, but is another mangrove cay with murky water. We couldn't find any coral to snorkel and the sea bed is devoid of sealife, having been over-fished by the locals.
Cayo Zaza de Fuera to Cayo Breton
PASSAGE NOTES. We took the long way around the north of Cayo Zaza de Fuera and worked our way through the deep channel through the reefs to the east of the cay. We were unsure about the depths over the reef to the south of the cay and the sun would have been directly in our eyes. Another sailing yacht, "Songerie" roughly followed the route shown in Calder's guide and saw at least 4 metres over the reef.
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We anchored in 3 metres to the south-east of the lagoon entrance. The sea bed is sand and thin weed and is good holding. The anchorage is protected from the north through to the east, but would be okay in anything through to south west because of the fringing reef. Cayo Breton is another mangrove cay with murky water. We took the dinghy 2 miles out to the reef by the remains of a navigation light. The sea was calm, so we anchored on the outside of the reef, where we found good spear fishing on the rocky reef in 6-10 metres of water.
Cayo Breton to Cayo Cuervos
PASSAGE NOTES. We took the long way around the north of Cayo Cuevos and then headed directly east into the prevailing 20 knot ESE winds. We left at ten o'clock and encountered nasty steep waves as we rounded the reef to the north west of the cay. By noon the wind had abated and dropped to less than 10 knots by the time we arrived in the anchorage at four o'clock. In retrospect, we should have waited until noon before leaving, to make the most of the lighter winds in the afternoon. This is a very predictable pattern in this area.
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We anchored in 5 metres off a small beach on a cay directly to east of the entrance marker. It's a pretty and well protected anchorage, but the mosquitos were voracious. The snorkeling on the east side of the island is good with clear water and plenty of sealife - we took the dinghy through a shallow passage between two islands at approximately 21° 04N 78° 57W.
Cayo Manuel Gomez
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We anchored in 3 metres at the southern end of the anchorage. It's another well-protected anchorage surrounded by mangroves. The snorkeling on the east side of the island is good with clear water and plenty of sealife - we took the dinghy through a passage between two islands and dropped the dinghy anchor at approximately 21° 02N 78° 50W.
ANCHORAGE. The approach is easier than suggested in Calder's guide because the reefs are very spread out - we didn't see any coral. We anchored in 3 metres at the western side of the island about 150 metres from shore. We found that the holding further inshore was very bad. This is a very poor anchorage being only protected from the east - the outlying reefs are so far away that they would have little effect on a westerly wind. The water was murky and I don't see any reason to stop here.
ANCHORAGE. This has quite a narrow entrance. We passed about 25-50 metres to the south of a low drying reef with a small stake on it. The passage is at approximately 20° 37.38N 78° 15.26W. You will pass close to an underwater reef in the channel, which can be avoided easily in good light. (We snorkelled on this pinnacle and would estimate that the minimum depth is about 4 metres.)
We anchored in 8 metres just to the west of the wrecked fishing boat at the southern end of the anchorage. It's another well-protected anchorage surrounded by mangroves, but it's prettier than most - we stayed four days. We snorkelled every day on the west side of the island and managed to catch lobster and fish. The water was very murky when we were there. The wreck is interesting to snorkel with lots of fish, but the water is very, very murky.
Cayo Media Luna
ANCHORAGE. This has a straight forward approach and the charts are accurate. We anchored in 9 metres in the middle of the anchorage. It's a well-protected anchorage for winds from the north through east to south, but is very wide open to the west. We had thunderstorms building up, forcing the wind to the west in the afternoon and building up 2 foot waves in the anchorage. The holding is excellent in thick mud.
Canal de Cuatro
REEF PASSAGE. This is a very straight forward channel through the fringing reef and all buoyed correctly shown on the Navionics charts.